Sunday, April 5, 2009
Chasing the Flame : Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World by Samantha Power
With his tailored suits and tanned good looks, Sergio Vieira de Mello was sometimes compared to James Bond, but a Bond steeped in Sartre. Studying philosophy at the Sorbonne, he was beaten by riot police during les évènements. He joined the UN in 1969, immersing himself in war zones in Cambodia, Lebanon, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor. This Pulitzer prize-winning biography leaves one in no doubt as to his bravery and dedication. Yet as Samantha Power makes clear, he was also willing to compromise with some unsavoury characters if it meant saving lives. He was fiercely anti-American, and it is a testament to his pragmatism that he agreed to leave his elevated position as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to become UN envoy to Iraq, especially as America had previously scorned the UN in the run-up to the invasion. In 2003 the 55-year-old diplomat was killed by a massive truck bomb in Baghdad. Could he have made a difference in Iraq? We will never know. As a devastated Kofi Annan observed, "I had only one Sergio."